It didn't take Buck Williams long to receive a proper welcome to the National Basketball Association.
In Williams' second game of the exhibition season, DeWayne Scales of the Knicks gave him an elbow to the chest as they ran downcourt together. Suprised momentarily, Williams glanced at Scales and then at the official.
The official glanced back, but never called a foul.
A minute later, when Scales' guard was down, Williams retaliated with an elbow of his own. The message was clear: Buck Williams, the New Jersey Net rookie, was not going to be intimidated.
"This game is so much more physical than what I'm used to," said Williams. "What would be fouls in college aren't here. It works both ways, though, because you get to foul them, too. You have to accept the physical play as part of the game or the game is going to go right by you."
"People are going to test every rookie who comes into the league, especially a young one with the good-guy reputation like Buck has," said Maurice Lucas, Williams' teammate on the Nets until he was traded to the Knicks last Sunday. "But if he shows early he can take it and dish it out, they aren't going to keep messing with him. You establish that early in your career and that respect stays with you."
As soon as he decided to leave UCLA to accept the head coaching job with New Jersey, Larry Brown had his eye on Williams. He had coached the 6-foot-8 former Maryland star on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, and Brown wanted Williams more than any other player in the draft.
Williams decided to leave Maryland a year early and the Nets made him their first choice, the third player selected in the draft after Mark Aguirre and Isiah Thomas.
"I was high on Buck after the Olympics and he's gotten so much better already," Brown said. "He shoots the ball better than I thought and he has great court awareness. I don't think he'll set the league afire with his scoring, but he'll make his presence felt.
"One of the most impressive things about Buck is that he has such good work habits," Brown added. "He doesn't have any bad playing habits, either, and he wants to improve."
Brown already knows Williams' role. "He'll definitely be a starter and I assume he'll play 30-35 minutes a game," Brown said. "He goes so hard all of the time that it'll be pretty hard to get him any more minutes than that."
Williams said he knows "I made the right decision turning pro when I did," but said he had mixed emotions about leaving Maryland. "Maryland made me what I am today," he said, adding that he still talks to Coach Lefty Driesell "once every two weeks or so."
Williams made his Capital Centre debut as a Net in Saturday's 102-95 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in an exhibition game. He had 17 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot -- one of them against Julius Erving -- in 31 minutes. He was the Nets' leading rebounder and second-leading scorer in the exhibition season.
He plays a low post most of the time and is extremely active under the basket. His best shot so far has been a short, flip hook, but he also has shown a nice 15-foot jump shot.
"He's so hard to defend because he never stops moving," said Philadelphia's Bobby Jones, one of the NBA's premier defensive forwards who faced Williams twice in the exhibition season. "You have to block him off the boards every time, no matter where he is."
Williams' style is similar to that of Milwaukee's Marques Johnson. Johnson has better shooting range and is more polished because of his experience, but Williams' potential is unlimited, according to Brown.
He envisions Williams as being able to play any of the three front-court positions -- power forward, center or small forward, "and there will probably be times when he will play all three," Brown said.
Against the 76ers Saturday, Williams demonstrated his skills. He outfought Darryl Dawkins for a rebound, threw an outlet pass to a guard and still got upcourt fast enough to fill one of the lanes on the fast break and score a layup.
"You don't teach kids how to do stuff like that," said Brown. "You either have it or you don't and Buck has it."
Williams said he feels no pressure, mainly because the Nets are such a young team. "And Coach Brown keeps everything like a college atmosphere," he said.
Williams said he is working to improve the range on his jump shot, but is basically satisfied with his game. "I'm playing the same way I have for the past six or seven years. I feel I didn't have to change my game any. The Nets drafted me for what I can do, so they must like it."